Kelly Gray isn't striking a signature pose with an entourage of scantily clad men, but she is back working on St. John ads — as a creative force.
The $400 million knitwear giant is unveiling four new faces in its fall print advertising campaign, marking the end of Angelina Jolie's three-year stint as the brand's spokesmodel.
And Gray, who was creative director and the face of the company in more than 20 years of iconic ads, helped shape the message.
The campaign, using models who aren't household names, departs from the black-and-white images of Jolie shot by Mario Testino under the direction of David Lipman. It consists of four color vignettes shot at night in New York City locations, including Times Square and Central Park. Each captures a specific color palette and group, from daywear to cocktail to evening. The ads will launch in the August issue of Vanity Fair.
"It was a great run we had with Mario Testino, David Lipman and, of course, Angelina Jolie," chief executive officer Glenn McMahon said in an interview. "Three years is a long time to maintain any campaign, and we felt it was time to do something new and different. [The campaign] ties in nicely to our whole rebranding initiative."
McMahon emphasized that the goal was to move forward. "We didn't want to look like we were trying to recapture the Kelly Gray ads," he said. "It was a mutual decision to not put Kelly in front of the camera, but she was involved in all aspects of the campaign."
The ads are intended to evoke a cosmopolitan feel in keeping with the brand's DNA and sense of adventure, but stop short of appearing New York-centric.
"We didn't want to show the New York skyline because we felt that Donna Karan owns that," McMahon said. "This could be anywhere in the world, which is one of our other big initiatives — pushing business internationally in Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai." St. John is also launching in Harrods in December.
The campaign is the first under McMahon, a former president of Dolce & Gabbana USA who was named ceo in August.Jolie was hired by then-ceo Richard Cohen to replace Gray as St. John's face. Cohen took the top job in 2004 amid shrinking profits and sales and departed in April 2006 when his strategy to attract younger customers with a new fit fell short because of resistance from loyal and mature clientele. Kelly Gray and her mother, St. John co-founder Marie Gray, who had left the company under Cohen, returned as consultants in September 2006.
The firm has brought its advertising back in-house. The new campaign was photographed by Mark Seliger, who shot recent campaigns for Macy's and Bebe and is known for his work in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and GQ.
"Everyone felt that, with so many new colors, textures and patterns, it would be fun to show multiple looks," McMahon said. "And going back to models would signify a departure from the old campaign. How do you top Angelina after three years?"
Kelly Gray said the concept plays to one of Seliger's strengths. "There is a cinematic quality to Mark's work that feels like a film set, and we wanted to combine location and fashion to show where the brand is today — elegant, sophisticated and glamorous," she said.
Kelly Gray said the mix of colors was an homage to St. John's heritage, but her favorite image is one of all-black eveningwear. "It felt really editorial, like we were pushing the envelope a bit. I called Glenn from the shoot and said, 'We're going to go for it.'"
The creative team already is working on the spring 2009 ads, which will convey the same cinematic feel and use location settings. Stand-alone ads for nonapparel brand extensions are on the agenda for the future.
The company has a lot on its plate in the next six months, including a spring runway show on July 22 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Calif.; the redesign of its freestanding stores and shop-in-shops, and a new, elevated sportswear collection, formerly St. John Sport, which will make its debut in the spring.
"The old Sport concept had seen its day," McMahon said. "We've elevated and migrated the collection so that we have wear-to-work options and sophisticated casual options. It was important for the new store design, the advertising campaign and the evolution of the collection to all relate. Now the words and the pictures are starting to match."Fortunately, in the dismal field of retail, our business continues to hold its own, so we are really encouraged," McMahon said, without providing details. "We feel confident that, when the economy turns around, we are going to be positioned for significant growth."
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast